Traditional with a Twist
Sewing has been a love of mine for a very very very long time. I have sewn with a machine since “Home-Ec” in junior high (I’m really dating myself here), my mom bringing me to Stone’s Department Store that year to pick out fabric, thread, and a pattern for a simple wrap skirt – all the rage at the time! – so that if I found out I did not like the whole sewing process after all, we would not have invested too much, and it wouldn’t be a huge loss.
Well, I was hooked. Sewing became and to this day is one of my most favorite things in the world to do. Now I must have received this love from my grandmother because her daughter, my mom, would tease me as I sat huddled over a project, seam ripper in hand, pulling out lines of stitching over and over until I mastered things like a perfect set-in sleeve, or the top-stitching on a cuff – and she would say, “You’re making me nervous just watching you! How can you love that so?”
Maybe it was the perfectionist or OCD part of me that drove me to keep at it until I got good at it, or maybe it was that part of me that to this day for some reason loves to create – starting with raw shapeless materials and then simply after pouring energy and labor into a process, watching something wonderful emerge. Whether it be cooking a wonderful meal from some basic ingredients, or transforming something old into something beautiful with simple paint, or shaping fabric and thread into wearable art, creating anything with your own hands has to be one of the most satisfying things we can experience as human beings.
Well she may not have loved sewing like my grandmother and me, but true to her loving and ever-supportive nature, my wonderful mom brought me time and again to Fabric Town or Stone’s to pick out the perfect fabric and buttons (my favorite part of a project!) so I could create a dress for major holidays like Easter and Christmas, and sew clothing as gifts for family, like blazers and dress shirts, and even the mother-of-the bride’s gown for my sister’s wedding and the “going-away” outfit for my own wedding.
I believe that if you learn to sew first with clothing, you can sew anything. The detail and precision learned in sewing clothing will make tackling other sewing projects so much easier. Well, after I was married, I wanted to expand my sewing into items for the home, and I began to collect quilting books and taught myself this wonderful art. I was drawn to quilting’s colorful patterns and geometric shapes (the math lover in me), the history behind the traditional old-block designs, the potential for limitless design in their contemporary cousins – particularly portrait and landscape quilts, their utilitarian purpose, and the process in creating them – precision sewing! Well life became very busy as it always does, and traditional quilting was put on the back burner.
Those early loves we must listen to, though, and while I recently began painting furniture to sell, I knew somehow that I wanted to incorporate quilting into some of my designs. And so was born the result of that inner wish. After picking up a handmade child’s desk at a local Salvation Army, I knew that it needed to be colorful since my hope was that it would make some little girl or boy happy with its myriad of hues. A photo of an historic circa 1860 American quilt full of color kept catching my eye, and I spotted a whimsical pin-wheel-like block that looked to me like those huge lolly-pop treats. Well, I knew those spiral beauties would be the design base for this piece.
First, though, I needed to sand down the old, yellowed, and uneven finish of the desk. I then painted it with three coats of a 50-50 mix of The Old-Fashioned Milk Paint Company’s Snow White and Oyster White and sanded down the few areas which chipped on their own. I also knocked-down some of the edges to bare wood on the legs and built-in lower shelves to give a little bit of definition. I normally don’t do this, but to me, because of the vast expanse of white in which I had just cloaked the piece (I’m a newbie with painting things white!), coupled with only a few areas that chipped, I felt the desk needed some variation. For the interior fold-up portion, I used Country Chic’s Elegance which covers beautifully and consistently in one coat. To give it a head-start to withstanding the wear of rolling crayons, drawing pencils, marbles, and little people treasures, I then gave it a coat of Country Chic’s Tough Coat.
I then went about drawing a larger version of what I dubbed the “Lolly-pop” block and transferred it with carbon paper to both sides of the desk. Next, I drew-on directly a simple sawtooth design (repeating right triangles laid side-by-side) to accentuate some of the horizontal construction lines wrapping the desk. Now came the fun part: using milk paint to paint in the design by hand….and something wonderful happened – I remembered how much I love to paint detail work! Using a very small brush and sometimes a script brush and mixing up very small batches and some mixes of OFMP Salem Red, Slate, Driftwood, and Marigold, I began to fill in the design. Adding in just the right amount of water made the paint flow like watercolor, and I knew right then that this was a process I wanted to repeat on future projects – so many happy possibilities started popping into my head!
After the finished design was dry, I sanded-down the painted areas lightly, allowing the paint to not have such a “new” feel. Then I simply left the milk paint in its raw state, not choosing to seal it. I liked the roughness for this simple piece. To complete this little project, I needed a sturdy chair so that a little person could sit up straight and tall while working at his or her new desk! I had just the thing that had been hanging around in my basement for so so many years. It still has four others like it, so I’m happy those can still work as a nice set for a future project. All that this little oak chair with the oh-so-dirty old paint needed was a scrub down and three coats of the same mix of white milk paint and a little tie-in with the sawtooth design. A braided chair seat picked up from a recent estate sale warmed it up and tied in nicely with the colors. So when all was said and done, I know my love of traditional quilts still exists, even though painting rather than sewing them to life is my “modus incorporatus” right now!
Thanks for reading!